This Christmas, a different kind of wish list

Published Tuesday, December 8, 2015 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner.

Dear Santa,

I’m guessing this may be the most unusual letter you get this season.  

Unusual, because I’m not looking for any stuff.  Sure, there are lots of things I could convince myself I could use, but really, I have what I need, and my home is already too cluttered.  So please don’t worry about bringing a kitchen gadget I’d rarely use, a power tool that will gather dust or any of those “for the person who has everything” novelties.

No, what I’m actually looking for is something a bit bigger.  I’d like peace of mind – the kind that comes with knowing that we are on the right track toward a more sustainable future, and that things will turn out just fine.  

I know that’s a bit vague, so here are a couple of specifics.

For starters: could you bring clear recycling symbols on things that are recyclable, particularly plastics?  So much of the stuff we throw away is perfectly recyclable – bags, containers, cartons, trays.  But how are we to know if there’s no symbol to guide us, or if the symbol is so faint or small that we need a magnifying glass to read it?  Clear symbols would also serve as constant reminders to encourage us to recycle more.

And could you ask manufacturers to not package their products in Number 7 plastic or any other material that’s not recyclable?  Number 7 is a catch-all class that includes all the plastics that don’t fit into the other six classes.  It may be accepted by blue box programs, but because it’s so hard to recycle most of it ends up in landfills anyway.

Would you be able to bring some convenient parking lots for me and other drivers who would like to carpool?  By carpooling, we could save money and help cut NB’s carbon footprint – but it’s challenging without dedicated places to meet and park.  Better transit would be even better, but perhaps that’s asking for too much.

Could you bring me some simple, local options for buying renewable energy equipment?  I can buy baseboard heaters anywhere, but I’m having a harder time finding the solar panels, solar hot water systems and solar heat boxes I’d rather be installing.

Finally, strategically placed at the bottom of the list, the two biggest asks.

First, could you help me and everyone else deal with the hangup of ‘cheap’ that seems to be afflicting us?  I know it’s natural for us to always seek out the lowest price for stuff.  But as long as our economic system allows manufacturers to pollute for free, the cheapest products often carry hidden environmental costs.  (Case in point: goods from China, whose capital city has for the past week been shrouded in an off-the-charts noxious haze that has closed schools and forced residents indoors.)  So please help us to somehow factor those hidden environmental costs into the prices we pay, so that sustainably-produced goods will be the cheapest.  A price on carbon comes to mind.

Second, I sometimes get an uneasy feeling that many of us still don’t really get climate change or sustainability.  Maybe it’s because we don’t understand science well enough.  More likely it’s because it’s really hard to acknowledge that some aspects of our lifestyle aren’t very sustainable, because such acknowledgement comes with an implicit obligation to act.  Regardless, some enlightenment on the issue would sure go a long way to fixing things.

I could ramble on - I haven't even touched on mandatory efficiency standards for new buildings, user-pay garbage, free registration fees for electric vehicles, disincentives for gas guzzlers or a bold agreement in Paris - but this is probably already too long.  Ironically, I started out asking for nothing but ended up asking for more than I’ve ever dared ask for before.  

Thanks, Santa.  You’re probably shaking your head and thinking, why couldn’t he have just asked for some stuff?